To Make the Radishes Grow

“That can be a sign that she sees you as compulsive, as being more interested in tasks than in being attentive to the people in your life.” I listened intently as the psychologist explained one of our daughter’s drawings, pointing to the pencil-sketch of me washing laundry in the ‘family’ drawing. “Typically, if a child draws his or her mother cooking food or with a child, it portrays an affectionate and loving spirit, a mother who is interested in providing for the needs of her family members. When a mother is depicted as cleaning in their child’s drawing, it shows that the child feels she can be impulsive and too task-oriented.”

I knew the psychologist was right.

That was several weeks ago, and between that newfound understanding and several others like it, God is helping me to recover from an over-achieving, do-er attitude and to rest in the perfect peace He intends for us, to learn how to love again.

Even yesterday, after having spent over eight hours between homeschool, preparing breakfast and lunch for the family, and coordinating various chore assignments, in the afternoon when Gleny asked eagerly if I could sit with her and work on her coloring book, I felt an immediate pull to escape, to go do something instead of be with her. My first thought was But I need to sweep the house and…

But I could feel Christ’s gentle pull to just rest and be. To love and enjoy this little girl that He has placed in my life — this princess of His — and color some panda bears and dolphins all the shades of the rainbow.

This urge to go and do, although many times it is in God’s name and for the intended benefit of others, has led me to a season of stress and very intense insomnia. I believe I am finally on the recovery swing, and after having many things stripped from me, He has shown me that in my own strength – however fast I ran the timed mile in high school or however many times I have joyfully hiked up mountainsides with family and friends – I can literally do nothing. He has taken me down from whatever tower of deeds I had constructed for myself, and shown me that apart from Him, I am nothing. The peace over our household, the radishes that we harvest from our backyard, every breath I take – all come from His grace. I cannot demand that peace dwell in the hearts of my loved ones, nor can I make the radishes grow or will my own lungs to work. All is an outflowing of God’s incomprehensible grace.

Several mornings in the last few weeks, I have felt God calling me to rise early, to find Him in the still, quiet hours before there is too-loud music playing on the stereo and several children constantly clamoring for my attention. I have oftentimes stood on our porch in amazement during the chilled, tranquil mornings, a very tangible sense of awe sweeping over me as I look out at the mist covering the mountain range behind our home, the birds of paradise beginning their early calls, another perfect day spilling forth from the heart of the Creator. In those early-morning moments, He tells me to slow down, to awaken to His breathtaking beauty and to just receive who He is.


One biblical passage that we read frequently with the children and in our personal lives is Jesus’ radical call not to worry – about clothes, food, drink, or what tomorrow may bring. I oftentimes become frustrated when the children don’t ‘get it.’ When they still worry about food or have seventy-three questions about what we are going to do tomorrow. When they want to control others or feel they must fight for their place. But they know Jesus’ command and claim to be his followers, I think. In all of this time, however, I,more than anyone else, have missed the point. I have had my gaze too intently fixed on the preoccupations of tomorrow, fret about next month’s finances or try to peek into what next year might bring. I have proclaimed Jesus’ call to genuine trust while secretly allowing worry to eat away at my gut, trying to take matters into my own hands, under my own control, rather than falling into the hands of the Living God.

I will now fall. I will now obey, rest. I will trust that He will bless our home with peace, that He, not I, will make our radishes grow, that He will orchestrate my next breath. And even when the kids don’t behave peacefully or the crop fails or my lungs stop, I know in the depth of my heart that He is still good, that His love began before the conception of this world and will continue after it is gone, that everything from the beauty of the morning mist to Gleny’s sloppy cheek kisses to Jesus’ death on the cross is an outpouring of His incomprehensible grace, a manifestation of His majesty.

 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?  Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.¨

Jesus of Nazareth in the book of St. Matthew 6:25-34

Even for Just One

One by one the majority of the students in my fourth-sixth grade Gifted and Talented program at the local school where I taught full-time last year and continue part-time this year came in as I was setting up for our usual Friday afternoon class to tell me, “Miss Jennifer, I won’t be coming to class today.” Their reasons seemed legitimate as they told me of the school-wide science fair and how they either had a competing project or wanted to see their classmates’ creations, and I thanked each child sincerely for having the respect to come and let me know that I should not expect them that afternoon although I was slightly disappointed with the news of the science fair’s conflicting schedule with my class.

But in my heart I rejoiced, thinking Yes, I can just cancel the class due to low attendance and spend time resting, reading my Bible, preparing for the coming week, and getting ready for the girls’ basketball practice that will begin in a few hours. I had spent a week in a warzone between our four children who are all struggling with the adjustment of having a new sibling, plus the continuing adjustment of dealing with their pasts, being in a new homeschooling program, accepting Darwin and I as parents, etc. The week had been filled with bouts of jealousy, various children declaring that they felt unloved or outright accusing us of favoring one child over another, the children forming teams against one another, feeling as though they need to struggle or compete to earn their spot in the family or classroom, playing the victim, and putting others down to feel better about themselves. Every day it seemed like each child had at least one eruption or shut-down, and our week was filled with stress, long prayers, varying punishments, discussion upon discussion about what it means to show the love of God to others, and so forth. I just wanted to collapse from mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual exhaustion, and I thought What an unexpected gift that I won’t have to teach today –

And then in came one of my eager fourth-grade students, and with a fake smile on my face I anticipated his science-fair excuse and cut him off, “Oh, it’s okay, I know there’s the science fair. Go enjoy it and we’ll just wait to have class until next week.” And somehow my exhausted cheek muscles forced out a reassuring smile, expecting him to accept my proposition as valid and leave.

“No!” And his face dropped, “I really want to have the class this afternoon…” and he looked confused about why I was considering canceling.

And I thought Dang it, why doesn’t he just go to the science fair? Doesn’t he realize I’m on the brink of some kind of breakdown?

I then asked tiredly if it would just be him or if others were also planning on attending our class, and he confirmed that there was at least one or two others who had said they would arrive.  I thought, trying desperately to justify myself in canceling the class, If there are just two or three kids – when there are nearly twenty enrolled in the program – it’s not worth it. It’s better just to wait until next week when we’ll have full attendance.

Then, as has happened so many times, Jesus’ words cut to my core “Even if there were just one person — one sinner — in the whole world, I still would have died for that person. Even for just one. Numbers don’t matter. Look at this eager little boy and accept him as I would – invite him in and teach him of Me and my ways. He matters to me. As I said to my Father in anguish before dying on the cross, have Your will be done, not mine.”

Then, even with rebellion – I might even call it self-defense – crying out in my heart, I told him that, yes, we would have class because numbers don’t matter, and in my heart I knew that having the class would be a submission of my will to God’s. His eyes immediately lit up, and he left the room and began shouting loudly to his comrades, “Let’s go! It’s time for Miss Jennifer’s class!” And I laughed and quickly stumble-ran out of the room to the school’s balcony where he stood to tell him to stop shouting because class wasn’t scheduled to start for twenty more minutes and, as he and my other students know, I am allergic to unneeded noise.

His eager little face then appeared periodically in my window over those next twenty minutes as he squinted to see the agenda I was scribbling on the whiteboard and to catch a glimpse of the learning materials I was preparing for them. My rebellious heart broke and I thanked God for having guided me into loving obedience.

That day five enthusiastic fourth-graders arrived in my classroom and we had an incredibly fruitful time that began with an in-depth reading of the words of Saint James: Religion that is pure and faultless in God’s eyes is this: to take care of widows and orphans in their distress and to keep oneself clean from the corruption of the world. From there each of us – myself included – spent about twenty minutes drawing what that means – not only the aspect of helping those in distress, but what it means to keep oneself pure from all of the destruction and sin in our world – be it pride, love of money, hatred, materialism, lies, sexual impurity, etc. We then continued on with a writing exercise in their journals with a given open-ended prompt, followed by an exercise I have invented called Rapid Math, and finished with a logic game, all interspersed with dynamic dialogue about what it means to know and follow the True God.

Throughout my two-hour time with my students, I recalled my husband Darwin’s words that he spoke at his cousin’s home recently. His cousin, who is married, in his late fourties, and a very wealthy businessman, had asked Darwin sincerely about the life of Teresa Devlin, the elderly missionary under whom Darwin worked and was mentored by at La Ceiba’s Music Conservatory for over ten years. Darwin answered sincerely, “She spoke frequently and sincerely of Christ as she ran the Music Conservatory, but the majority of the students and teachers received the message of Jesus with deaf ears. I heard the message and was saved. Basically I am the product of her 15 years in Honduras, and her mission was fulfilled through my life.” I remember looking at my husband in a new way – and not only him but also the life of Teresa Devlin and God’s infinite and tireless power – with renewed awe, respect, and determination.


Even for just one, it is worth it. For one life turned toward Christ – even if it takes several years, frustration and despair over those who are lost, and daily struggle – it is worth it. Even if you or I or someone’s student or your grandchild or that terrible boss were the only human being alive on the face of the earth, Christ would have willingly died for that one person as He did for the multitudes. May we never judge our success, failure, or the value of our efforts on numbers.

Who’s Who at the Ranch

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Jenae Tiki Matikke, our beloved “Tia Tiki” (“Aunt Tiki” in Spanish), age 26, is about to celebrate her six-month anniversary living and working at the Ranch. Part of her family lives in Tennessee and the other part in Cameroon, West Africa. She and I met while studying abroad in Argentina in 2011, and during our time at the same Argentinean university we formed a strong friendship and stayed in touch after returning home to the States. She has degrees in Social Work and Spanish, and she is our beloved sister in Christ, dynamic homeschooling teacher, Bible study leader, and wonderful influence in both the children’s and our lives. God has placed it on her heart to start abstinence education classes in the surrounding rural community in the coming months in response to the high levels of sexual promiscuity and unwed teenage mothers. She is hilarious, very artistic, and has an extremely profound walk with Christ that is expressed in her humble submission to God’s will as she loves those around her. She is with us for an indefinite period of time as she continually seeks God’s will for her life.

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Erick Chavez, “Uncle Erick,” age 24, is a native Honduran and our honorable agriculturalist, Bible study leader, and godly influence in the children’s and our lives. He grew up in a Christian family and was discipled by our mutual mentors for several years before turning to worldly ways for a short season in his life. He has returned to the Christian faith with intense sincerity and has a profound testimony that he frequently shares with those around him. He is engaged to be married in May and is at the Ranch for an indefinite period of time as he continually seeks God’s guidance for him and his fiance.

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Diana, age 13, is our eldest daughter and has a very sweet yet strong spirit. She is wise beyond her years and is the spiritual leader among the children. She has a mothering spirit and a passion to learn music. She is currently studying piano, voice, music theory and music history in La Ceiba’s Music Conservatory that my husband directs, and in our homeschooling program she is learning to play the recorder along with the other children. She has a servant’s heart and is incredibly resilient considering the story that she holds at the young age of 13 years. She has mentioned wanting to be a math teacher or raise orphans as an adult, but she continues to seek the Lord’s will for her life. She and her sister Gleny participate weekly on a local girls’ basketball team that I coach.

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Gleny, age 9, whom I affectionately call “My Wild Gleny,” in, indeed, just that. She is very different from her older sister and has an incredible strength and spark that we continually pray will be used for God’s glory. She has grown in her self-confidence, trust in God, and adventurous spirit in these last few months, and she brings great joy to those around her. She oftentimes struggles with strong emotions, and in these last couple months she has begun to read the Bible on her own and says that each night she asks God for her life’s purpose. I recently asked her if she has any dreams for her future, and after thinking briefly she answered, “I want to go to the university. I want to keep taking painting classes and eventually teach others how to paint…and teach people how to read.”

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Jason, age 6, the biological brother to both Diana and Gleny, has grown incredibly in these months since the three of them moved in on November 1, 2013. He has given his life to Christ, and with that faith and confidence that he now has in God he has overcome many fears that used to immobilize and haunt him. He is our little man in training, and each Friday afternoon he, along with Brayan, has “Man Time” with Uncle Erick, who teaches them what it means to be a man of God. Jason loves to dance, is very artistic, and extremely affectionate. He loves animals and has a heart for the underdog.

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Brayan, age 13, is the newest member of our family at the Ranch. He is high-energy, very affectionate, and is learning what it means to be in a stable, loving family. He accepted Christ a short time after arriving, and is now learning to walk in the faith. He is very adventurous, fearless, and has helped Jason a lot in his growth as a young man.

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If you want to learn more about Darwin and me, you can visit the “Who We Are” page at the top of this blog.

1, 2, 3…Jump!

After many recent adjustments, long one-on-one discussions, conflict mediations, times of deep prayer, and the ongoing task of being a very non-traditional family, this past week we surprised the four kids with a trip to the local park to relax and just celebrate the fact the the Lord has us all together, even if sometimes it is uncomfortable or, well, different

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Holding All Things In Cupped Hands

It felt as though all the blood had drained from my body and I was on the urge of falling into a deep abyss. My weakened legs kept carrying me as Darwin and I walked along the seemingly endless dirt path leading away from our home, but I felt as though all strength — any ounce of fight inside of me — had left when I heard his answer to my simple question.

I had spent the day working on administration for the Ranch, writing thank-you letters, running errands, and buying groceries. Darwin had taken the kids to the city for their monthly ‘parental visit’ time that the government’s child protective agency requires. Typically it is a two-hour time slot of sitting and waiting without any real hope of a familial visit. After all, in their time under the government’s care, their mother has not visited them once after having abandoned them in a hotel over two years ago.


As Darwin and the kids entered our gate upon their return from their day in the city, I greeted each of the kids with a hug and a kiss on the forehead as Darwin went quickly to our bathroom to get cleaned up because he and I had received a special invitation to dinner at his cousin’s home that evening and needed to leave promptly.

After having showered and changed, Darwin and I began walking hand-in-hand from our home along the two-kilometer stretch to the highway. I asked very casually how the required visit time went with the children that day, and he answered — as if I had asked him his favorite color or what he ate for breakfast –“Their dad came.”


I felt as though my world had collapsed, as though I had a thousand questions to ask all at once, but my legs kept moving and somehow I kept breathing as I listened, as if through a heavy fog, to Darwin’s words —

Their biological father, who had not visited them in recent times and whom we did not expect to have any contact with, showed up on ‘parental visit day’ at the government’s child protective care office and talked with his three children for about an hour and a half, saying that he plans on visiting them every month and that he is going to work as hard as he can to ‘get them out of here.’ Diana, the eldest, protested her father’s proposition with a deep sincerity, saying she is content with us and does not want to leave…

Darwin gave me more details about the visit, but my mind wandered to the unthinkable, the unanswerable…

But we were planning on starting the oficial adoption process this May…and by law we cannot do that if they are receiving parental visits…right? At least that is what I had been told. What if their father does take them right back into all of the emotional damage that they came from? Although for us it would be devastating to lose them, the long-term damage they would suffer would be far worse than our loss. But there is redemption for everyone, and no one is outside of God’s reach, so He could change their father of whom I have heard so many abusive stories…right? What are we – a family or… Keep walking, Jenn…

As one dead leg slung itself in front of the other, carrying me toward the highway, my sunglasses under the red-hot sky hid my tear-filled eyes as I thought I cannot afford to have an emotional breakdown now, right before – or worse, during – this big dinner with Darwin’s cousin and his family.

As Darwin and I sat in silence waiting for the dinner to start, he looked at me, the despair in my heart portrayed on my pale face, and said, “Nearly a year ago you told me something that deeply impacted me…”

And I thought I know what he is going to do.

And sure enough he gently reached for my limp hands and joined them together, palms up, cupping my my hands in his. He said, “You told me that this is how you hold everything, in your open, cupped hands, because nothing is yours. Jennifer, nothing is ours. We are only administrators in God’s Kingdom.”


My dulled mind travelled to the memory of what I had written in my journal roughly a year ago…

February 11, 2013: Yesterday as I sat perched on a mossy rock in the chest-deep waters of the river I lowered my cupped hands into the water, raising them up to study the small pool that remained cradled in my joined palms. Many times over the past few years I have used the phrase ´holding all things in cupped hands´ metaphorically to describe wanting to care for what God has given me — relationships, opportunities — without seeking control. Yesterday in the river I stared intently, almost obsessively, at the still pool in my hands for a few brief moments before abruptly clenching my fists. The water which I was holding, of course, took an immediate exit through my greedy fingers. Then, almost as an experiment to see what the results are when we grasp at water, at life — when we cling too tightly, too clumsily to what God has given us — I began grabbing handfuls of water and trying — unsuccessfully, of course — to clench the water, to keep it as mine, and each time I was left with the same result: nothing. I then tried the opposite approach — holding the river´s cool water on flat, uninviting hands. Rather than trying to rapaciously own the water I approached it indifferently, caring little whether it slid off my stiff palms, out of my life. Inevitably each time the water disappeared from my hands as it had no safe crevice to rest in. I then returned to my original position, marveling at my ability to maintain water in my carefully cupped hands, thinking how no other approach would work — I could try poking the water, slapping it, balancing it on my fingertips, crossing or twisting my hands, splaying my fingers, but each time I would be left with nothing. I will hold all that the Lord has given me with cupped, open hands.

I sat there, still in a fog, using what little strength I had to suppress the tears welling up in my eyes as he and I remained there for several minutes, staring at our empty, cupped hands. I imagined Diana, Gleny, and Jason – alas, not only them but everything and everyone in my life – sitting in my carefully cupped hands, looking up at me. Then I thought, no, not like that, and began imagining them running and dancing about on the slopes of my palms. I then began to see them – the small, imaginary children skipping about on my cupped palms – jumping outward from my thumbs, away from me, or being taken from my hands or voluntarily walking out of them. I began to feel an odd mixture of peace, sorrow, and understanding. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Darwin’s words, which were initially my own so many months ago, bounced slowly around the corners of my tired mind, “Nothing is ours…” and I prayed then and am praying now that the Lord may allow those words to settle and bear fruit in the depths of my soul — that I may never clasp my hands greedily or fool myself into thinking I have power, control, or ownership over anyone or anything, including my own life. I will make the resolution once more, this time with a deeper understanding of its weight: I will hold all things in cupped, open hands.

Helping Dad Play the Piano

The other night I walked into our living room to find little Jason on top of Darwin´s shoulders as Darwin passionately played classical music as if it were the most normal thing in the world to have a six-year-old on one´s shoulders while playing Beethoven´s masterpieces. I quickly ran into our bedroom to grab our camera…

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It All Started With a Cup of Water

Instead of going to work today, my husband and I received a new 13-year-old son. That is certainly a sentence I’ve never written before.

That is what I wrote on a slip of paper in one of my disorganized notebooks the evening of Friday, February 7, 2014.

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It all started with a cup of water about a month ago.

This is a story of how God works miraculously – and sometimes rather quickly – if we are willing to submit to His plan and crumple up and throw away whatever plan we ourselves had sketched out so neatly.

He – Brayan, that is, the newest member of our family – arrived on our 17-acre property several weeks ago as one of the young cow-herders who bring the local cow herd to our fields a couple times per week to graze. The first time I saw him he was resting on Erick’s porch with his young companion as they monitored the cows walking and grazing in their midst.

As I saw the two young boys from a distance, I remembered Jesus’ words that we are to give to those in need, and that if we give even a cup of water to a thirsty person in His name, we will be blessed.

Without thinking about the ramifications – Oh, God does have His plan, and oftentimes our first little step leads us much farther than we ever intended to go! – I went to our kitchen and filled up two plastic cups of water for the boys, walked across the property to where they were sitting idly, greeted them, dropped off the water, asked their names, left, and didn’t think much more about the incident.

A couple nights later at dinner Jenae announced, “You remember Brayan, one of the young cowherders?” And I thought, Yes, I think he was one of the ones I gave water to the other day…And she continued, “Well, I was talking with him and it looks like he wants to enter our homeschooling program.” I felt like a train hit me, and my immediate thought was No. I then wondered rather indignantly why she felt the liberty to invite him into our school program that we were supposedly planning explicitly for our three children, and I began searching my mind for several reasons why her proposition was absurd.

After a short time – a couple days perhaps, I don’t remember exactly – the Lord changed my heart and we decided to try to find the eager young Brayan, who hadn’t been in school for some time, to at least talk with him and probe his reasons for wanting to be in our school. Darwin and I ran into him along the long dirt road that leads from our home to the highway several mornings the followig week, and we talked with him about the possibility of becoming a student in our homeschooling program. We felt confirmation and peace from God, so the next step was to call his step-mother with whom he lived to get her permission, talk about requirements, and get copies of his birth certificate and prior school registration.

By chance we acquired her phone number from one of her young sons who was roaming along the dirt path one evening as Darwin and I were returning home, and, once home, I called her. She answered, and I introduced myself, telling her how her step-son was interested in becoming a student in our homeschool program –

“It’s better that he just live with you,” was her response.

Another train, and I felt like all the blood in my veins left my body. Quickly, feeling like I was doing a solo tap-dance routine in front of a large audience without knowing the choreography, I began to explain to her that, no, that was not an option – right?—but that we could offer him a spot in our school. She repeated the fact that she would prefer that he live with us, telling me that his biological mother left him at the age of two months and that his father died this year, leaving her, his step-mom, with him and her three other young children while she works long hours and struggles to feed her family.

I told her that we would be in touch regarding his schooling, trying to politely ignore her comment about him living with us, and then we ended the conversation.

That night I did not sleep as Jesus’ words resonated in my mind, knocking on the door of my heart: I oftentimes come in disguise – as a street person, as an orphan, as the lowliest of the low – and if you open the door, if you love these outcasts, you are actually loving Me. And if you reject them, you are rejecting Me.


It is a biblical passage I had studied so many times, and even that week had explained in-depth and with great enthusiasm to my students, basketball players, and my own children the weighty meaning of that passage in chapter 25 of Matthew’s gospel – if we visit the prisoners and the sick, if we give food to those who are hungry, if we do any act of love in the name of Christ to those on the margins of society, we are actually loving Christ himself, and at the end of the world He will separate all people into two groups: those who ignored the lowliest, and those who reached out to them in love and Truth.

I tossed and turned, trying desperately to find a reason to close our door – our hearts  – to Brayan – afterall, we weren’t planning on receiving more children for about a year, and especially not a 13-year-old boy, and not with my ongoing insomnia and our new marriage…but God’s whisper was calling me — us — to faithful obedience.

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The next day I talked with Darwin, Jenae, and Erick about this, and although it was not a plan that birthed from any of our own personal plans, we all agreed that God had placed Brayan – someone that literally no one else wanted, that no one else was guiding into Christ’s liberating Truth – in our path, and that accepting him into our family would be more than an act of charity or even a risky move; it would be a step of faith born out of obedience.

So the next day, we almost frantically jumped through all the necessary hoops to have him officially form part of the Ranch family, and that night he slept under our roof for the first time. The story continues, but this is its beautiful beginning…

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Releasing All

A prayer of declaration from my solitude retreat, January 14, 2014:

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If I lose everything that I currently have – my husband, our children, the Ranch, our spiritual community, my health, the ability to walk or talk, my money, my reputation, my friends, I am fine; I am letting go of everything, in this moment, forever. I am letting go of any worry I have about our finances, my role as a wife, the future of the Ranch, the spiritual growth of our children and their purposes as adults, the lives and souls of my students, all of the pains and injustices of the world, all the lost people. I cannot change the world; I cannot save it – only You can, and if You use me in any small way, from the depths of my heart I will rejoice for having been used by the King. I am letting go of any desire for control, for power, for autonomy, for recognition, or a position of leadership and influence. If I lose everything in this world, I am fine. Moreover, I am considering that I have already lost everything, that nothing belongs to me, nobody owes me, I do not deserve anything. If one day I wake up and everything that I used to have has been taken away from me, I will continue onward – perhaps poor, miserable from the point of view of this world, a failure, starting over – but with joy in my heart, knowing that I have not lost the hidden treasure, You, Christ. Help me, Lord, to live like this – completely liberated from the worries that used to torment me. Nothing is mine, and if I lose everything, I will consider it a great privilege to have had those experiences and the company of those people during the time that You permitted. Only You are my treasure, my everything, and nobody can take that away. Liberate me from my worries, from the nightmares I experience about the injustices of the world and all the lost people, the groans of a hurting world, and help me to trust completely in You. Give me peace and rest. I am letting go of everything.

Gleny’s Letters

Gleny, our 9-year-old daughter, who I affectionately call “My Wild Gleny” due to her roller-coaster emotions and natural spunk, has taken up the task of writing heart-felt letters of spiritual and emotional encouragement to the people in her life. Both Diana, age 13, and Jason, age 6, have also begun writing letters to others with a deep sincerity, but in this post I will focus on two of little Gleny’s letters that she has written in the last few weeks.

Darwin, Jenae, Erick, and I often write notes and letters of encouragement and love to the children, and it has touched our hearts to see that they, too, have now taken upon themselves the task of doing the same for others.

I have translated the letters from Spanish to English exactly as she wrote them without making any changes.


Diana, my beloved sister:

All of us love you so much – you are so friendly. There are times that we fight when we play, and I like then you tickle me. You are an excellent reader, and thank you because you are my best sister, and Jason is my best brother. My mom, dad, Aunt Jenae, and Uncle Erick, and Jason love you, and everyone from our faith community. I hope that you tickle me tonight, and that you never lose your smile or your God. Thank you for everything.

With a lot of love,



Gleny wrote the following letter to the foster mom that her and her siblings had for two years after the children spent a few hours with her recently in a visit that we scheduled for them. Their beloved foster mom is a Christian widow in her sixties, and we are thankful for the seeds of love, faith, and discipline that she sowed into the children while they were with her. Below are Gleny’s words for her.

For Ms. Irma:

Hi! How are you? I hope that you have a lot of peace and a lot of joy and patience, love, and truth, and with compassion like Christ. We love you a lot, Ms. Irma. I miss you a lot. Thank you for the ice cream and thank you for your love and time for us, and thank you for taking us out for a trip around town. You were the best mom in the whole world. [At this point, as Gleny was dictating the letter to me and I was writing verbatim what she was saying because she still doesn’t have the confidence or educational background to write long letters properly, she looked up at me with a big smile and said, “Just like you, Mom!” and I laughed.] You did not yell at us or hit us, you just gave us punishments. And thank you for teaching us to read even though I did not pay attention while you were explaining the textbook to us. Forgive me for making a lot of noise in the morning every day. Thank you for all of your advice, and thank you for explaining to us when we did not understand something. Thank you for your hospitality with us. If we had not known you, we would not be as we are now. Please say “hello” to… [and she lists over 10 people].

With a lot of love,


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“Oh no, Mom raised the tire swings…”

Our children have many normal fears that other children have — fear of the dark, fear of trying new things — plus a few extra fears such as fear of abandonment or fear of dangerous neighbors that children who come from stable families do not have. We have worked extensively and very intentionally with the children with the goal that they literally fear nothing and no one except God.

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The other day it dawned on me to try to instill this fearless attitude in the children in a tangible way, so I headed determinedly to our porch and began raising the tire swings two to three feet higher than they had been previously. The kids all came to watch, mouths wide open and with looks of terror on their faces, and they asked why on earth I would do such a thing. I responded confidently, ¨You should fear nothing and no one except God. Don’t fear these tire swings.¨

And I left the scene, watching very intently from a distance as the three remained gathered around the tire swings, each wanting to see if he/she could mount the new challenge but filled with the fear of failing. The oldest and youngest half-heartedly tried, but Gleny backed away from the dreadful thing as if the tire swing itself might come after her and fulfill her moribund expectations. Gleny continued trembling and crying (even though no one was telling her she had to attempt the new challenge) while Diana and Jason tried repeatedly and eventually succeeded, which left the intimidated Gleny not wanting to be left out but still held entirely captive by her fear.

Gleny then approached me as I stood passively removed yet intensely interested, and sobbed, ¨Mom, I can’t do it. Help me! I can’t do it!¨ I said lovingly yet firmly, ¨You can indeed do it. I’m not going to help you. You are letting your fear dominate you.¨ Searching her mind frantically for a resource beyond Mom, light shone in her eyes as she said, ¨I’ll bring a stool!¨ I congratulated her for her creative thinking, and she returned quickly with a plastic kitchen stool to help her mount the seemingly impossible tire swing. Literally quivering, she got up half-way and then fear drove her back to solid ground. After several efforts she at last achieved the goal of mounting — and enjoying rather than dreading— the rush of swinging high in the air.

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Later that day as the children passed by the tire swings I overheard them grumble, ¨Ugh, Mom raised the tire swings to teach us not to fear anything but God…¨

And my heart rejoiced.

Bootcamp for Peacemakers

This is the true story of soldiers in training for God’s army of peace.
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Our two youngest children, Gleny, age nine, and Jason, age six, frequently get into squabbles as I think many siblings do (I am an only child, so I am not entirely sure), and from time to time the name-calling or annoying gestures will escalate, someone will throw a punch, and then comes the crying, accusations, and furrowed brows.

In these three months since the children moved in with us, we have often – almost obsessively – talked about peace. We talk over and over, crouched down, eye-to-eye with each child, about the Prince of Peace and His desire for them to grow up to be men and women of compassion, peace, and love. We read bible verses about peace, we ourselves try to permit Christ’s perfect peace to pervade our lives as examples for them, and we talk frequently of alternatives to violence – using our words to express our emotions, leaving a situation if we are angry, or, of course, putting on the big pair of red Everlast punching gloves and heading straight to the punching bag on the porch to exhaust our negative energy on the bag rather than on our brother or sister’s head.

??????????????????????????????? Their behavior, relational problem-solving, and communication skills have improved drastically in these last few weeks, but the other day I was in Darwin’s and my bedroom organizing some paperwork when I heard a thump and then a shrill cry come from the adjacent room.

I immediately entered the scene with the mentality of a shrewd detective. Jason sat on the floor with crocodile-sized tears in his eyes after what looked to have been a rather dangerous bump against our living room’s bookshelf. I looked at Gleny, thinking the whole incident had been an accident and that she would serve as my witness – that he was jumping on the couch and then clumsily fell against the bookshelf, or something along those lines – but after asking her very sincerely what had taken place, the look in her eyes betrayed that she, in fact, was the culprit. I then asked very inquisitively, with my eyebrows and voice doubtlessly raised, “Gleny, did you do this to Jason?” She quickly admitted to the misdemeanor, and I praised her heavily for having told the truth and then had a long talk with the both of them about all of the abovementioned topics regarding peace, respect, using our words rather than our fists to express ourselves, etc.


A couple days later a similar episode occurred, and I came onto the scene with a general knowledge that what had happened was most likely intentional. Rather than nervously asking who started the fight or trying to comfort or punish them, I asked rather exaggeratedly, almost playfully, eyes wide open and looking around the room, gesturing with my long, gangly arms, “And where are the punching gloves?” They both quickly forgot whatever squabble they were having and very eagerly ran over to the designated spot on our living room side table’s bottom shelf, and began to bring me the gloves, thinking that I myself needed them and that they were being quite helpful in finding them for me. As they began running to bring me the gloves I interrupted them and said rather dramatically, “Uh-huh? And why are they over there and not on your fists and being hit against the punching bag?” They both stopped mid-stride and began looking at the floor, hopefully being flooded with memories of the many times Darwin and I had walked them through demonstrations of how to put on the gloves, how to hit the bag, the reason for having the bag, etc. Thus I discussed, once again, the importance of being people of peace.

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A few days later there was another unpeaceful occurrence, so I consulted Darwin to see what an adequate punishment would be for our two peacemakers-in-training. He immediately responded, “Exercise.”

“Excellent,” I agreed, and headed to the living room to declare Dad’s verdict.

“Onto the porch. The two of you. Now.” They quickly shuffled out onto our large porch, barefoot and in their play clothes. “Push-up position.” Without delay they put their skinny bodies into the required position, side-by-side. “We’re going up to thirty, ten at a time with ten-second breaks in between each set. Each time I count you will do one pushup and yell – and I mean yell – I WILL LIVE IN PEACE.” They looked up at me, eyes eager to please, their arms already quivering a bit from having maintained their push-up position during my initial lecture. “If either of your knees touch the ground we will start over. One!”

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In unison two voices declared, “I will live in peace!”

“No. I know you can yell better than that. One!”

Louder this time, they declared, “I will live in peace!”

“Good! Jason – bend your elbows more. Excellence is our goal. Two!”

“I will live in peace!”

As I paced in front of them, their cries for peace resonating into the mountains behind our property and doubtlessly into the homes of our closest neighbors, I almost began laughing, thinking Our neighbors probably think we run some kind of military bootcamp for peacemakers.

They completed the required thirty push-ups, and we were able to maintain peace for the rest of the day.

A couple days later, Darwin and I were resting in our room while the three siblings played on our house’s porch, which is right outside our bedroom window. We heard a couple shouts, and then our eldest daughter said, “Push-up position, you two.” There were a few more muffled sounds and then we heard Jason’s nasaly voice proclaim at the top of his lungs for our whole village of El Pino to hear, “I want to live in peace!” Darwin and I looked at each other, with joy in our hearts, and tried not to let the children hear our laughter.
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Our Purpose in Parenting: Raising Up a Fierce Yet Compassionate Generation

My dad has asked me twice what our purpose is in raising other people’s kids, why we do it, what we ultimately hope for these kids. Maybe you are wondering the same thing. Do we do it out of some sense of charity that makes us feel warm inside? Do we hope to discover a child genious in the crowd of abandoned children? Or are we merely trying to call attention to ourselves and be ‘good people’?

Each time my dad has asked me our purpose in parenting, my response has been the same: “Dad, our goal is that these kids — who will become teenagers, then adults, then will have families of their own — know Christ and have a burning desire for the things of His heart. You can follow Christ as a doctor, as a poor rural farmer, as a teacher, stay-at-home mom, overseas missionary — you name it. We will educate the children as best we can to give them a good academic foundation, but ultimately we aren’t hoping to form them into average middle-class citizens with good salaries and material comforts. We want them to be attune to God’s call and follow Him, which is different for each person.”

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From extensive reading I have done about children’s homes and even some foster families, I know that some are sort of like ‘holding areas’ — stagnant institutions without much growth opportunity or Truth, and the minute a child reaches the age of 18 they are sent out into the world, oftentimes without any real skills or passion. This is why so many of the girls who grow up in such institutions turn to prostitution and the boys end up as beggars and drunks.

Our purpose, contrary to being some kind of charity organization for the less fortunate, is to raise up a fierce yet compassionate generation of Christ-centered servants, people who seek first the Kingdom of God and whose faith is expressed in works of love. We love the children and have this extraoridinary hope for them because we ourselves have experienced the love and forgiveness of God and have the privilege of participating in His eternal purpose. Nothing less.


“Coach is Allergic to Complaints.”

The girls on my basketball team know very well that their coach is “allergic to complaints.” Last year, our first year together as a team, the girls would often complain of sore muscles or voice their disagreement with difficult drills, push-up competitions and the like. I responded — rather dramatically — by telling them that I have been diagnosed with a severe complaint allergy, so if they want their coach to stay in good health, they’d better maintain their comments to themselves.

This year the veterans on my team of 4th-6th grade girls know that if they complain I will only make the drill longer, increase the number of push-ups, or count slower as they do wall-sits. Recently during our weekly practice one of the girls who is prone to complaining opened her mouth to voice her opinion, and another girl hushed her, saying, “Shh. Coach is allergic to complaints.”

At the end of each practice I have the girls do a series of wind sprints on the school’s old asphalt basketball court. As they run, sometimes up to ten or twelve sprints total, I declare, “I’m testing your character. Let’s see who complains.” They pant and bend over between sprints, but they have finally arrived at the understanding that it is not worth complaining because I will only make it harder — Oh, I do remember the day when my own high school basketball coach yelled, “Run until get tired!”


As the girls run, one sprint at a time, I say, “Don’t tell me it’s hard. I know this is difficult. Most people in life choose the easiest thing, the path of least resistance, but God’s way, as we are learning, is indeed difficult. Christ says that most people choose the wide, easy road, but the path that reaches His Kingdom is narrow and difficult, and it is the only path that leads to true joy, freedom, and eternal life. Choose the difficult path. Go!” And the girls do another sprint.

Frequently with my basketball girls, gifted and talented classroom students, my own children — really anyone who will listen — I read the following text from the Gospel of Matthew: “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

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Recently I had each of my basketball players complete a written evaluation of their experiences on the team, what they have learned, how I can support them personally in this stage of their lives, what their view of God is and if they have the desire to know and follow Him. As I read each evaluation, some written with large letters in pink marker, others with small scribbles in pen, some in broken English, others in Spanish, I almost began weeping and rejoicing as I sat there alone on the empty court after practice, all of the girls having already been picked up by their family members, as literally every evaluation that I read revealed — in their own words — that each girl is truly interested in knowing God more and following Him, that they really are listening when we read Christ’s words each practice and that they are hungry for a deeper understanding. Two of the girls even explicitly mentioned how they want me to guide them so that they may enter through the “narrow, difficult gate” and accomplish hard things for God’s glory.

As you read this, I ask that you would sincerely pray for my basketball girls and for the way that God is using me as an instrument of truth in their lives. Ask that I may be given wisdom in guiding them and that as we study the Bible together before each basketball practice that it is not just me reading dead words from an ancient book, but words of life-giving Truth that touch their spirits. Pray that Christ may call each one of these precious girls into a life of humble service to Him, that they may joyfully enter through the narrow, difficult gate that leads to abundant, eternal life.


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You Bring the Rain

The following is a prayer I wrote during a solitude retreat I am currently taking in the Cangrejal River Valley near our home in Honduras. I have been struggling with insomnia for several months now, and Darwin and I decided I needed a three-night getaway to rejuvenate spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and physically after so many recent changes in this last year-and-a-half so that I may return home with renewed energy, vision, and joy.

Monday, January 13, 2014


Without Your power I can literally do nothing. I am like the shallow, dirty waters of the Cangrejal River during the dry season. Although I try again and again, each time making a determined resolution to be better, I cannot even love and respect my own husband and family without impatience, stress, and a rebellious spirit bubbling up from within me. I weep for the souls of my students at the Episcopal School, yet I stand powerless to truly transform their lives, convince them that You are the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Sitting here on a hammock perched high above the Cangrejal River, I can hear it roaring now that the rainy season has arrived, a powerful symbol of Your capacity to transform, strengthen, give life. I already explored the small bed and breakfast’s property, trying to get a glimpse of Your majesty revealed through the renewed and impressive flow of the Cangrejal’s crystalline waters, but with so many trees blocking my view I must be satisfied with merely hearing its roar, hearing Your whisper that that is what you want to do to me, if I allow it – transform me from a shallow, dirty, struggling soul into a powerful source of your strength, beauty and glory, purifying me with the rain of Your spirit, bringing life and energy to what was previously slow, mediocre, worn-out. Transform me, Yahweh. Literally in my own power I cannot love well, cannot open the eyes of my basketball girls or gifted and talented kids to see Your Truth, cannot raise up a generation of Christ followers if I myself am limping along, always impatient, exhausted, and clinging to the little spiritual understanding that I possess, hoping that my words and example will be enough. Carry me on Your waters so that I may rest in Your majesty. A river does not make its own waters flow, does not generate its own energy – You bring the rain. Bring me rain, Lord.

The Cangrejal River

From Jennifer, with joy